Saturday, November 19, 2011

Redemption - Red Wine Chocolate Cake

Sometimes you can't help but love something, although it gives you grief.  Like a mischievous child or a juvenile delinquent with a heart of gold, I harbor a soft spot for bad boys who are secretly good.  I hold the belief that people are essentially good, and that everyone makes mistakes.  Partly because, well, goodness knows I've made more than my fair share, but it all works out in the end.

Take this cake, for example.  The first time I made it, I thought it'd turn out a disaster.  I cheerfully made the batter with some friends, talking too much about how to measure flour and why you soften butter, why measuring cups come in both liquid and dry forms and why you grease a pan then flour it, and popped it into the oven, leaving it alone for about an hour.  Halfway through, someone turned off the oven.  I immediately turned it back on and baked it another 20 minutes.

I also flipped out.

When I finally controlled my irrational fit of furious anger at the idiocy and unfairness of the world 20 minutes later, I pried myself out of that sticky puddle of self-pity and ran upstairs for another toothpick.  Paranoid, I also needlessly set the timer and left the oven light on, just to clarify.  When I came back downstairs and tested the cake, it was perfectly done.  Springy to the touch, toothpick was clean with the tiniest little moist crumbs clinging to the sides.

I brought the cake upstairs, my black mood beginning to lighten.  The cake looked like a solid brick, having fallen while the oven was off, but the aroma was promising.  I borrowed a knife and cutting board, prayed and began to gently slice.  When I broke through the tough crust, I felt my anger melt and my despair fade.  The crust tasted crisp and pleasantly chewy, like the edges of good brownies.  Surprisingly soft and tender within, the cake was moist with a firm chocolate aroma, then subtle, mysterious flavor backed by a hint of rich butter.  The cake quickly won me over, and managed to woo everyone else as well.

I was still too depressed to take photos, but a repeat performance was immediately requested.  My friend even gave me red wine from her family's restaurant (soon to be posted!) to make another cake.  These pictures are from that cake.

My favorite part's the top crust :)

Red Wine Chocolate Cake from 17 and Baking, who adapted it from Smitten Kitchen, who got the recipe from At Home with Magnolia (Wow!)
Makes 1 9" x 5" loaf

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened 
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cup sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
¾ cup red wine
¼ cup plain yogurt (I made my own with milk and enough lemon juice to make it curdle)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cocoa powder (Dutch or natural, see note)
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt

1 large mixing bowl
1 wooden spoon (or electric mixer, very handy here)
1 rubber spatula
2-cup liquid measure
¼ cup dry measure
½ cup dry measure
1 cup dry measure (optional)
1 9" x 5" loaf pan 
Butter and flour to coat the pan


1. Butter and flour the 9" x 5" loaf pan.  Preheat the oven to 325°F.

2. Cream the butter, then add sugars and cream until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and cream until lighter and fluffier.  This will take about 5 minutes with a good mixer and rather longer by hand.  Consider it your workout and this cake your reward.

3. Mix in the wine, yogurt and vanilla, ignoring the "curdled mess" look.  Gently fold in the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Use a sifter or strainer if you have one.

4. Spread the thick batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake at 325°F for 60-70 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the top comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then slice and enjoy!  If you have a cooling rack, this is a good time.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Try New Things - Pumpkin Gnocchi

Recently, I've noticed that I can overdose on sweets.  My mum used to berate me all the time for eating too much sugar, but now I prefer a smaller, high-quality dose instead.  For the past week months, I've basically baked non-stop to the point of actually running out of things like vegetable oil and all-purpose flour.  I'm halfway through my latest 10-lb. bag, and this is my second in three months!  Perhaps that doesn't seem like a lot for more experienced bakers, but I'm also a full-time engineering student involved in 3 clubs and research.  Urk.  This sweets thing is getting out of hand.  It's time for some sustenance food, the kind that can get you through your next 20 research papers without reaching for another slice of pie. 

Healthy vegetables.  Look, a mise en place!  I learned something from Jen of use real butter :)

My last project was a pumpkin bread, which left me with a half a can of Trader Joe's organic pumpkin.  Although I tossed around ideas for another loaf, I happened to be checking some food blogs when Pumpkin Gnocchi from the blog Happyolks came up.  I mentioned this to my boyfriend through Skype, and he positively lit up.  For a moment I felt some apprehension, having eaten gnocchi perhaps twice before in my life.  I had certainly never made it, and my boyfriend is part Italian!  What if it turned out a rock-hard, soggy mess?  But everything involves a risk.  Sometimes the risks are small, sometimes not so small.  This risk, I'm glad I took.

I cooked these as instructed, then served them in a instant (I'm a poor college student, kindly forgive my transgressions) miso-packet broth with stir-fried vegetables and a poached egg.  I think I overkneaded the dough, but I also made the mistake of carrying them down to the kitchen in a bowl.  As a result, all the gnocchi that I had carefully rolled and cut blended back into one amorphous blob and I had to form them again.  This may have worked out to my benefit, as I rather prefer chewy foods and these cooked up perfectly chewy and soft, with a mild pumpkin flavor.  My boyfriend thought they could use more pumpkin flavor, which I considered augmenting with cinnamon.  I lost patience with the gnocchi after forming it the second time and just chucked it into the pot without the scoring, but I think they're much cuter with those grooves.

Pumpkin Gnocchi slightly tweaked from Happyolks
Makes roughly 4 cups of cooked gnocchi

2 cups all-purpose flour (originally white whole wheat) 
1 cup cooked pureed pumpkin (I used half of a 15-oz. can)
1 egg
¼ teaspoon salt

Any vegetables or soup you'd like to add (I bought my vegetables from the salad section of one of our school's food courts)
2 or 3 eggs

1 large mixing bowl
1 rubber spatula
¼ cup dry measure
¼ teaspoon measure 
Flat surface for rolling out dough
Sharp knife and cutting board (can double as flat surface) for cutting gnocchi
Flour for reducing stickiness of dough
1 fork for scoring the dough (if you are more patient than I)
1 pot for boiling gnocchi


1. Mix together the egg, pumpkin and salt until combined.  Add the flour a ½ cup at a time and fold until a soft dough forms, adding more flour if necessary. 

2. Roll out pieces of the dough to form ropes about ½ inch in diameter, then cut to form gnocchi.  If you have the time, press with a fork to form adorable, traditional gnocchi.  Otherwise, just cook as they are.  They look kind of like fried tofu (which make me happy), and are just as delicious in a different way.

3. Bring water in the pot to a rolling boil, then drop in a few gnocchi at a time and stir occasionally.  When the gnocchi float to the surface, remove them from the pot, set aside and replace with more gnocchi.

4. Once all the gnocchi are cooked, rinse out the pot and boil some fresh water or broth.  If you live in an actual house, there's a decent chance you have some homemade or canned soup stock around.  That's perfect.  I live in a dorm and used some instant miso soup packets.

5. Dump the gnocchi back into the soup and cook for a minute, to heat it back up.  Add in any vegetables or meat that your heart desires, and crack in 2 or 3 eggs to poach.  Once the eggs are cooked but the yolks are still runny (personal preference), serve!  Enjoy :)

Gnocchi, miso broth, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, onions, a touch of garlic and an egg.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Regrets and Sweet Requests - Pumpkin Bread

I meant to post this yesterday, but my ankle is sprained.  Given that I can make batter anywhere but the oven is two flights of stairs away, I decided I must demonstrate common sense* some time.  I'm supposed to be an adult, you know.  

Anyway, the post I meant to publish.

I miss my camera.  I broke the screen two months ago and have been borrowing my boyfriend's family's camera since, but it just doesn't inspire me like my old companion.  Maybe it's just that I won't ever think of this camera as mine, maybe it's because it sometimes refuses to focus.  I have been trying to take pictures blind with my camera, but the only turn out once in a while.  Maybe it's really just my fault for being such a lazy blogger and failing to document the past few things I've made.  And with such a photogenic subject, too.  

Taken the second time I made the bread.  I took this picture nearly blind since the screen is broken on my camera, and was stunned to see this.  It's one of the best pictures I've ever taken (is that good or bad...?)
This pumpkin bread was really a result of my boyfriend at the grocery store.  While I looked on the lowest shelf for flour, he grinned excitedly and pointed to a colorful box at eye level.  The resulting conversation went something like this:  Can you make that?  *raised eyebrow*  Well... can you make it, but not out of a box?  Yes, sweetie, yes I can.  

A few weeks later, he kindly drove me to Trader Joe's and set me loose.  I gathered up cocoa powder, apples for the tart, pumpkin pie spice and most exciting of all, 2 cans of organic pumpkin.  May I also take the opportunity now to mention that he bought me a pound and a half of organic brown sugar?  That stuff is rich and crunchy, with large crystals, a heady aroma and a heavenly flavor.  I put some in the pumpkin bread, but sadly I think a lot of the flavor was lost.  I'll have to save it for a shortbread or something.  Mmmm, shortbread...  Now where was I?  Ah, yes, organic pumpkin.  I rarely have the opportunity to eat and bake with organic anything, considering my diet consists mainly of school food.  Here it is, in all its glory:

Mmmm, pumpkin.  Beautifully orange, subtly scented and mildly flavored.
Behind it is the apple pie, all wrapped up and ready to go.

Interestingly, a loaf only requires half a can of pumpkin.  I only have one loaf pan and I was running out of oil besides, so I cut the recipe in half the first time.  I also reduced the sugar a tad, but should have upped the spices.  Boyfriend said there wasn't enough cinnamon.  Next time!  Otherwise, I love this pumpkin bread.  Soft, fluffy, fine crumb and full of pumpkin flavor.  The crust is just a tad crisp and flakes when cut, but it's delicious.  The recipe is a cross between Kirbie's Favorite Pumpkin Bread and Ultimate Pumpkin Bread from the Streaming Gourmet. 

Pumpkin Bread from Kirbie's Cravings and Streaming Gourmet
Makes 1 9" x 5" loaf

1 cup pumpkin purée (½ 15-oz. can pure pumpkin)
2 eggs
¼ cup oil
¼ cup (½ stick) butter
1 cup sugar
⅓ cup water/milk (see note)
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 large mixing bowl
1 wooden spoon (or electric mixer)
1 rubber spatula
2-cup liquid measure
¼ cup dry measure
1 cup dry measure
¼ teaspoon measure
1 teaspoon measure


1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter a loaf pan, then line with parchment paper, leaving some paper hanging over the sides for easy removal.  Up to you whether you want to butter the top of the paper as well.

2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then mix in the oil.  Add the eggs one at a time and beat until completely mixed and fluffy.

3. Mix in the pumpkin and water*, then fold in the flour, baking soda, salt, pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon.  Scrape down the sides, and don't forget the bottom of the bowl!  With thick batters like this one, sometimes the bottom gets left out.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Allow to cool for 20 minutes on a cooling rack, then slice and enjoy!   

Taking pictures of the insides is harder than I thought...

Note:  Instead of water, I used a ⅓ cup of my leftover liquid from the apple pie.  I think it added extra sweetness, but didn't make much difference in terms of spice.  I'd use milk next time.

*In the morning, though, hunger overruled common sense and I hobbled downstairs with a double batch of pumpkin bread batter, a loaf pan and a cupcake pan.  The muffins were disappointing straight out of the oven, but given time to cool, they develop the same glorious flavor and texture I love about pumpkin bread.  They'd be great saved for breakfast, particularly since pumpkin bread tends to deepen in flavor the next day.  Oh, and the full recipe (1 full 15-oz. can of pumpkin) makes 24 muffins or 1 loaf and 12 muffins.  The muffins take about 25 minutes to bake.